Written by Melinda
King Woman – Celestial Blues
Doom rock from California, USA
Released July 30th 2021 via Relapse Records
You’re like an empty cup. You always need somebody to fill you up.
King Woman. One of those names you’ve likely heard this year, I know I did, almost TOO much. I tend to avoid stuff people talk too much about in favour of covering things I think people SHOULD be talking about but after listening to Celestial Blues a couple dozen times and falling deeply in love with it, I too now scream King Woman and not much else wherever I go. King Woman provides to me something similar to my 2020 favorite May Our Chambers Be Full by Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou, which was months of repeating the album and shaking people until they listened to it and told me they liked it. IF you tell me you don’t like it, then it’s somehow emotional wounding to me?
How can you not be totally hooked in by the opening title track of Celestial Blues? It’s a perfect introduction to the powerful expressive kind of doom they play. Where most doom acts like this try to go for something all round powerful and badass, there’s something very vulnerable and emo about this record. It’s the same doomy riffage, slow pace and swooning witchy vocals common to doom genres but it’s composed so tightly and expresses so much sadness and rage. In a distinct, pointed way. The atmosphere is so severe and all consuming, a story that demands the attention and empathy of it’s listener. Instrumentally the through line is doom but there’s so many subtle flourishes added and fantastic use of shoegaze and post rock styles. Yes the vocals are the key element here but I’ve heard so many doom projects with that kind of setup and you can tell they were all betting on the vocalist to carry them to success. Here the instrumentation builds around the vocals with it’s own distinct signature and mastery. Nothing cookie cutter about it.
I need to look into all of the vocalist Kristina Esfandiari‘s other projects because this performance is quite simply special. Her harsh vocals have a lot of angry expression in them like something you’d expect to hear from Made Out Of Babies but the cleans, holy shit the cleans. They are amazing. I’ve heard this album dozens of times now and I’m still getting goosebumps from hearing certain parts of songs with such an intense delivery of sound. The outright shrieking is so awe inspiring and horrifying. Kristina really has the whole range from the Emma Ruth Rundle style breathy expression to the Julie Christmas style of unhinged screaming, but with great control and middle grounds between the two. These aren’t just vocals, these are wounds you can hear and words fashioned like weapons. Try not to feel something deeply during the track “Ruse” where you can just hear “Oh and it hurts and it hurts and it stings” in pain filled cries for help. “Ruse” is also where the heading for this review is from. This album has utterly captivated me. The live performances must be one of a kind truly, like seeing one of the wonders of the world in motion, or watching an icon at play in real time.
The swooning strings just after the peak in “Golgotha” show off just much has gone into this arrangement to provide texture and flow. They expertly build up a song, blow it out and then rather than bringing back to where it was, it comes back changed by the crucial moment that just occurred. They capitalise on everything here in a very post metal kind of way. The come down from the peak in a way that extends the feeling and doubles down on the levity felt during each song. The drumming and bass playing are very important to this as they provide so much emphasis and cool moments that make each passage feel brand new even if it is simply returning. The song structure feels more organic rather than copy and pasted segments.
The album as a whole has a big life to it, for the most part at first it lets you off the hook with songs that sound like they come from a cold place of regret and longing before songs like “Coil” and “Psychic Wound” reveal a truly evil force in the music. The heaviest moments on Celestial Blues weigh down on you and thrash about like being stuck in the maw of a crocodile. It’s all fun and games and pretty until you’re in the middle of a death roll. It’s a kind of injured aggression that demands you stare it in the face and either show love for the monster or be annihilated by the darkness of your own soul. “Looks like I’m not gonna be your Fucking wife”.
Lyrically it’s very well written and just oozing with gigantic metaphor and spirit. There’s a strong sense of alienation in the lyrics, not just standard sad life stuff. There’s a dream in here, or there was. It’s cosmic. Here’s some lyrics from opening track “Celestial Blues”:
But I’m not from here that’s for certain
I’ve never felt like a normal person
I hang my head, I’m not feeling right
I want to ascend until we collide
I want to crash my heart into the divine
And lyrics from “Entwined”
You are a gushing flame
Hailing from an Eastern sky
You are the first and last name
Whispered through the ether
So willfully destroying
Unlike any other
King Woman is truly potent in every aspect and I feel so connected to it. It’s like… if you don’t like King Woman after hearing it then that’s a red flag. There’s some shit you’re not open to or haven’t experienced and just aren’t like me if you walk away from this album with nothing. How can you gaze into this mirror and not FEEL the suffering? This album is both gender as fuck and mood as fuck.
The Bottom Line
It’s the perfect kind of album for me. Straight up my favorite genre, which I will insist on describing as voidgaze. I cannot perceive a flaw on this album. King Woman put it down and I went over, picked it up and said “yes. YES”. It will either latch onto your heart and never let you go, or it won’t, in which case I have zero interest in hearing about it. It’s so good that when the opening comes back around I still get excited every time because I know damn well it’s a glorious ride. How the fuck do you make something like this that simultaneously fills the listener with power and misery? Every woman is a king who has seen battle.